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Issue #615: May 5-11, 2019

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Q: Since you’re running low on questions, here’s one: Are flat-panel TVs subject to the same kinds of errors that can creep up on computers that have been left running for long periods of time?

– Del S.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  It is somewhat of a fallacy that errors creep up on a computer if it is left running for a long time.  There is nothing intrinsic in the operation of a computer that makes it less stable or more error prone the longer it stays booted.  There is also no recommended minimum or maximum time before a computer should be restarted.  In fact, unless your computer is actually requesting a restart (such as when it is installing certain kinds of software) a properly functioning computer should be able to run indefinitely without being rebooted.

Of course, the world isn’t a perfect place, and things don’t run perfectly all the time.  I have to admit, that it is possible for poorly written software to have what is referred to as a resource leak which means the software allocates system resources such as memory, file handles, fonts, etc., but then doesn’t release them back to the operating system when it’s done using them.  System resources are a finite commodity, so if such programs are left to run long enough, they can indeed cause performance issues, and sometimes the only way to get the system back to a usable state is to reboot it, thereby recovering all of the leaked resources.  It is somewhat rare for modern commercial software to have such leaks, though, and I personally leave my computers up for weeks on end without any issues.

As far as so-called flat-panel TVs are concerned, that term applies to virtually every television on the U.S. market today.  The corollary, the bulky, heavy, cathode ray tube sets of yesterday have largely died off, although because of their relatively low-cost, they are still popular in some parts of the world; namely Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In order for your question to be applicable to a given TV, that set would need to be not just a flat-screen, but also would need to be a Smart TV.  Virtually all Smart TVs are flat-panels, but not all flat panels are Smart TVs.  The mere fact of the screen being flat does not make the TV “smart”.  A so-called Smart TV is one that can access the Internet, and that can be augmented with downloadable apps, just like a smartphone or tablet.  The main TV at the Geek House, a big Sony LCD model, is a Smart TV, and it runs the Android operating system.  That makes it capable of running the very same applications as any other Android device.  It also means that, like any other computer, it requires occasional upgrades and maintenance.  For example, every now and then I turn it on and get a message on the screen telling me that there’s a new firmware version that needs to be installed.  This is the equivalent of Windows occasionally updating itself.  The main difference is that it happens far less often with my TV than with my PC.

To bring this full-circle, and address your original question, if you accept the proposition that poorly-written software can cause system problems, then yes, it is possible that a Smart TV could be subject to an accumulation of errors, or leakage of resources that could cause performance issues.  However, there is a vast difference between the way people use TVs and computers.  Many people who own Smart TVs don’t even realize their set has the ability to run applications, and so never exercise their set even close to the point where they might experience a problem.  Also, TVs tend to get turned off when nobody is watching them, and that operation closes all running apps and resets the TV to a known good state.  That means the already unlikely condition of errors in PCs is even less likely in Smart TVs.

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